How much new housing is needed in Victoria to increase affordability, and where should it be built?
I will discuss this question at the Lunch Time Lecture: Healthy and Inclusive City Building, next Monday, November 6th, noon at Victoria City Hall. Here is what I found.
Between 2006 and 2016 Victoria’s population grew from 78,057 to 85,792 people (see graph below), about 774 new residents or 1% growth per year.
There are, on average, about 1.8 residents per household, so accommodating these new residents requires adding about 440 additional housing units annually. During the last fifteen years about 500 new housing units were built each year in Victoria (see below), although some of these replaced older buildings and so the net gain was smaller.
This indicates that during the last decade, housing supply approximately matched population growth. However, some of the new housing units, particularly downtown condominiums, are used as vacation homes rather than primary residences. As a result, we did not built enough new housing to satisfy growing demand. This helps explain why housing has became unaffordable in our city.
To meet our City’s housing needs and increase affordability we must add housing faster than population, including many basic townhouses and apartments, since these are the most affordable and land efficient types of housing to build.
Good news: There are currently more than 4,000 new housing units under various stages of development in Victoria. This additional housing should start to satisfy latent demand and drive down prices.
Bad news: Most of these new units are downtown, and many are in high-rise. Many households are unsuited to downtown living, and high-rise housing is relatively costly to build and operate.
To meet diverse demands and increase affordability we need to build more lower-cost housing types, such as townhouses and apartments, in residential neighborhoods. However, most of Victoria’s residential neighborhoods are zoned for single-family housing; more compact and affordable housing types are excluded, as indicated below.
What would this mean? Besides downtown there are twelve neighborhoods. Let’s assume that, to catch up on our housing needs Victoria must build 2,000-3,000 new units annually, half of which can be located downtown and half in neighborhoods. This means that neighborhoods should accommodate an average of 80-120 new housing units annually. Some of this need can be met with secondary suites and accessory units incorporated into existing single-family houses, but in practice, only a few such units are built each year. In most neighborhoods the best ways to increase lower-priced housing supply are to allow property owners to replace some single-family housing with townhouses and multi-family housing, to replace small older apartments with somewhat larger buildings, and to reduce parking requirements so developers can build housing on underused parking lots.
A typical townhouse project adds two to eight new units; a typical missing-middle housing project adds ten to 30 units; and a typical mid-rise multi-family development suitable for an urban village or arterial location adds 30 to 80 new units, and sometimes more. In other words, most neighborhoods only need to accommodate a few new townhouse and multi-family housing projects each year for the city to meet its housing development goals.
Residents have good reasons to support policies that make this happen. Allowing property owners to build more housing units, such as subdividing larger single-family lots into townhouses, or allowing housing to be built on underutilized parking lots, increases land values while also reducing housing costs per unit, and when they are ready to downsize in the future, many single-family housing residents may want to live in townhouses and apartment buildings in their neighborhoods.
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